Last year my 30th birthday fell on a Sunday in June I knew that there must be some epic endurance race I could compete in to ring in a new decade. It dawned on me that the half Ironman at Mont Tremblant would likely be the same weekend. I'd been visiting as a spectator for the last three years, so I knew the event well. So, I registered and swore I'd never do another triathlon again. Fast forward one year, and I ran through the finish line of my first half Ironman (albeit triathlon) on my 30th birthday and told my family I wanted to do it again the following year.
The past six months I've been training fairly consistently for my second shot at 70.3 miles of swimming, cycling and running. During the race, we are required to swim 1.9k, cycle 90k and run 21.1k across a hill infested course with 3000ish other spandex-clad crazies. Last year I finished in a comfortable seven hours and ten minutes, and I set my sights on a goal for 2018 between six to six and a half hours (depending on many factors that happen with outdoor sport).
So this past Sunday, I 'raced' for the second time at Ironman 70.3 Mont Tremblant finishing in six hours and twenty-four minutes, beating my 2017 time by 46 minutes. I've been asked too many times to count on how my experience was, and I've illustrated my 2018 experience with many friends but wanted to share my story beyond my circle. So, here we are.
First of all, triathlon is hard. Mentally and physically. I'm an endurance athlete by trade, so I'm familiar with sustaining hard efforts over long periods of time. I've also had a baby, so I understand pain. But I'm still getting used to this whole multi-sport thing. Going into Sunday's race for the second time almost made my nerves and anxiety worse because I knew what was going to happen. I knew that there would be many moments of self-doubt, immense physical struggle, the overwhelming urge to quit...and the list goes on. But I also knew that crossing that finish line would trump all that crap. That was what kept me going. Every swim stroke, hill climb or footfall was one step closer to crossing those blue arches and hearing my name over the loudspeaker. I remember telling myself several times over six hours; "Jenna, you aren't cut out for this sport," "Why are you stressing yourself by doing this" and "This is the last time you're going do this." I knew those moments and thoughts would crop up and I didn't have an arsenal of positive self-talk to counter them. I just let that devil speak and grit my teeth. In moments of physical pain and fatigue, self-depreciation is the easy way out. It's much easier to talk yourself out of something than to convince yourself not to quit. We've all been there, and I had experienced the same sort of thing many times during training as well. There were swims where I'd cut my workout short or grab a flutter board, rides where I would just be spinning my legs for the sake of moving and runs where I would turn around early. It's expected and almost essential for an endurance athlete to "fail" many times during their training, and fail I occasionally did. Experiencing setbacks and doubt but persevering despite was one thing I could count on to pull me through.
So, I pushed on in my race. During the swim, I pretty much panicked all 1900 metres and had to flip over on my back every couple hundred metres to stare at the sky, float, catch my breathe and remind myself "you are okay, you can do this." Why did I panic? I'm not sure. I have a little soul searching to do to figure that out. Over the past two months, my swimming technique has improved dramatically, but the open water and a new wetsuit undid most of that practice quickly. I finished the swim 11 minutes faster than the year before, but I know now that there is work to be done in my head and body before I try it again.
Cycling is my second strongest discipline of the three triathlon sports. I bought my first aluminum frame road bike back in 2010, thirty days before riding 320km through the Rockies over three days. I started teaching indoor cycling nearly ten years ago, but I hadn't developed a love for road cycling until last summer. My new full carbon road bike and I have been on many adventures since last summer, and he's been a performance game-changer (yes, it's a he and is fondly named Jason). I've been able to hit the majority of my prescribed cycling workouts since January, and my fitness on the bike has increased exponentially. I've discovered I'm a pretty good climber (I used to dread hills) and my weakness on the bike is the warm up. It takes me about 20-30 minutes on a bike before I can settle in. Fortunately, this can be trained. One I settled in on the bike after about twenty kilometres I was able to pass the majority of the field around me. I advanced 317 spots relatively quickly. The cycling course at Mont Tremblant is very challenging, but I was very familiar with it and had an advantage as a decent climber. I finished the bike a little slower than I'd like but stronger than 2017 and significantly more confidence and energy.
Lastly, the run. Aw..sweet, sweet running. Running is my sport of choice and the best of the three disciplines for me. It was a relief to put my running shoes on after four hours. I knew the worst was over, although the run would still be incredibly challenging. Kilometres zero to five and kilometres fifteen to twenty-one were pretty much entirely rolling hills, but I knew this. It's a tough out-and-back course, with the hardest bits at the worst times. But, I had practiced this course. I knew what I needed to do to get through it. I allowed myself to walk a couple of metres up each hill if I had to. I let myself use the porta-potty to empty out 3 litres of sports drink I had consumed on the bike. I told myself "slow down, slow down, slow down" over and over because I knew my legs wanted to run fast but I'd burn out faster. My goal was to finish the run stronger than the previous year while feeling good and enjoying the sport I loved the most. My Garmin also died at about seven kilometres into the run, and I had no idea how I was doing afterward. I let my legs and intuition lead, and it was a good choice. I walked most hills but my run splits in between all those breaks were quick and much faster than I expected I'd go. I climbed another 349 spots up and was only passed by another female runner with less than one kilometre to go (damn). I told my friends that I'd probably go easy down the finishing shoot and take it all it but I did the exact opposite and barrelled my way aggressively down, passing as many people as possible, attention affixed on the finish line. I finished and sighed loudly in relief, saying "thank god that's done" to the volunteer who handed me my medal.
Minutes later after I collected some ice for my sore knee, a drink, my post-run gear and found my friends I decided that I'd do it all over again, for a third time, in 2019. All of that regret and negativity over the past six hours became a thing of the distant past, and the overwhelming feeling of accomplishment meant everything. Why not give enjoy that incredible gift again?
So, as I said, triathlon is hard. Like many other sports, or life events for that matter, there are moments you are shoved so deeply into your pain cave that you feel like giving up or quitting. Inscribed on the inside brim of a new hat I picked up at the race expo it says, "If it doesn't challenge you, it doesn't change you." This is pretty much the exact reason why I've done this and will continue for another year. Eventually, I'll take a break, but I'm just getting started. The lessons I've learned in the water, on the bike and the road translate beyond just the sport. The people I've trained with and coached have enhanced and indeed fulfilled my experience more so. This sport is hard, yes, but its life-changing power is even more significant. And I can't wait to do it all over again.
2019 Iron North Triathlon Club Details
So, where do I go from here? Here's a glimpse into my 2018 & 2019 goals.
July - October 2019:
- Train for the Toronto Marathon on October 21st. I'm not ready to announce a time goal (likely
3:15 - 3:25), but the intention is to qualify and rerun Boston in 2021.
- Correct my diastasis recti (abdominal separation) and manage pelvic floor.
- Strength train. I stopped most strength training in early June with an acute knee injury, but I'm
pumped to build into a regular strength routine 3x a week.
- Stretch and mobilize. A least six days a week for ten minutes. There is no excuse.
- Ride outside when I can (as cross-training) and swim for an hour once every two weeks.
November - December 2019:
- Base build for triathlon training 2019. This will include some longer indoor rides, sport specific
strength and maintenance.
- Swimming lessons! As mentioned I'm much better than before, but I still have work to do.
Jan 2019 - June 2019:
- Train my weaknesses which include: Swimming (all of it), transition from sport to sport (i.e.: the
warm up or first 20-30 minutes), racing flats on the bike, developing better positive self-talk.
- Goals: 1.9k swim in 40 - 45 mins.
90k bike in 2 hours 50 mins - 3 hours.
21.1k run in 1 hour 45 minutes - 1 hour 50 minutes.
Transitions to total 8 minutes.
70.3-mile Ironman triathlon in 5 hours 30 minutes - 5 hours 45 minutes.